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Vieques Dispute Continues...



Urges Enforcement of Law Against Base Trespassers -- Sets Hearing for Sept. 22

by James Inhofe
September 9, 1999

Copyright © 1999 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.



by Dale Eisman, Staff Writer
September 9, 1999


WASHINGTON-U.S. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, announced today that he will hold a hearing Sept. 22 to examine the military`s need to maintain vital training at the Navy`s bombing range facility on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico.

"I am convinced it is absolutely necessary to maintain the vital military training which has been conducted at Vieques for the last 58 years," Inhofe said. "There is no other adequate location in the Western Hemisphere where Navy pilots can get this kind of necessary training. The Readiness Committee hearing will focus on the importance of this facility and what alternatives are available to assure that our military has the critical training it needs in the future."

Inhofe addressed his concerns about the Vieques facility at today`s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the confirmation of Gen. Henry Shelton to serve a second term as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Inhofe urged Shelton to use his influence in the administration to support the vital training that takes place at Vieques. Inhofe pointed out that the recent superb performance of U.S. pilots in Yugoslavia was due in no small measure to the training they received at Vieques immediately prior their deployment into the conflict.

In his capacity as chairman of the Readiness Subcommittee, Inhofe toured the Vieques range and visited with officials at Roosevelt Road Naval Base in Puerto Rico on Aug. 24-25. On Aug. 26, Inhofe wrote to Attorney General Janet Reno, demanding that the Justice Department take steps to enforce the law by prosecuting trespassers who are currently occupying Vieques and endangering themselves and others by removing ordnance from the base.

At today`s hearing, Inhofe said he was concerned that some were seeking to use the current controversy for partisan motives. "We should not turn this into a political football," Inhofe said. "The issue here is military readiness, which is vital to our national interest and well being. If there are problems, we can and should work them out. But we should not make rash, politically-inspired decisions that will undermine our military and hurt our security over the long term."



September 10, 1999

Copyright © 1999 THE MIAMI HERALD

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress on Thursday that U.S. forces must continue target practice on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques until an alternative bombing range is found.

Gen. Henry Shelton, warning that the Pentagon hasn't found a suitable alternative site, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Atlantic-based units of the Navy and Marine Corps need to practice air-to-ground bombardment, artillery fire and naval gunfire in order to be combat-ready.

Live-fire combat training has been suspended on Vieques since a bombing mishap in April killed a Puerto Rican civilian security guard and injured four others.

The Navy has offered to ask Congress for money to aid economic development on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques and to assign a full-time coordinator to assist in development efforts, according to an economic plan submitted to a presidential task force.

The proposal, obtained by The Virginian-Pilot, offers to assign teams of Navy engineers to work on the island's infrastructure and train local residents in the construction trades. It also says the service could give up some of its land on the island, expand a program under which it leases other land to local farmers and contract with Vieques firms for some construction work on its Vieques facilities.

The 20-page plan, much of which is a rehash of unsuccessful Navy efforts to aid in Vieques' development during the 1980s and '90s, was prepared for a four-member task force looking into the Navy's activities on the island.

The panel is expected to make recommendations to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and President Clinton later this month.

The Navy owns more than half of Vieques, a 33,000-acre island just east of the main island of Puerto Rico. About 900 acres near the eastern tip of the island are designated as a bombing and artillery range, and thousands of sailors assigned to ships based in Hampton Roads routinely train there before their overseas deployments.

The Navy says the Vieques range is the only place in the Atlantic where Marines can practice amphibious landings while shells fired from nearby ships strike targets further inland. Such "live fire" training is a close approximation to the way the two services would expect to operate in wartime.

"Shifting portions of this training to other locations would degrade the quality of training while increasing the (operational pace) for our East Coast forces," Adm. Harold W. Gehman, head of the Norfolk-based U.S. Atlantic Command, wrote Secretary Cohen last month.

The training "is an absolute necessity to prepare our ships, aircraft and air crews for ongoing operations, to enforce the `no- fly' zone the U.S. and its allies have imposed over southern Iraq since the Persian Gulf War of 1991," Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, head of the U.S. Central Command, said in a similar letter.

Puerto Rico 's governor, Pedro Rossello, said the Navy's bombing and shelling has limited the development of tourism and the fishing industry and may be responsible for high rates of cancer on the island.

The Navy report paints a different picture. "Between 1993 and 1995, the Navy undertook more than 20 major promotions to support economic development on Vieques," it says. But because the ultimate decisions to develop new businesses are made by private entrepreneurs, "most of these promotional efforts failed to generate any long-term economic activity."

"The lesson of the Navy's economic development initiatives is that Vieques is a challenging place to do business," the report adds. A commercial ferry system excessively inflates the cost of Vieques' products shipped to the main island, the report says, and farmlands on the island can generate only a relative handful of jobs.

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